Dismantling pallets

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 17, 2007

FRANKLIN—He said it, standing in the small office of the business his father built: There were two reliable barometers to monitor his business. One was to follow the use of diesel fuel, how many gallons were sold. That indicated how busy tractor-trailers were, how many miles they traveled hauling goods from one place to the next. More fuel meant more miles, which meant more goods were being sold and shipped.

The second measure was how many pallets were sold. Pallets were like the tiny fish that survive by attaching themselves to bigger fish and feeding off the food left behind. Wooden pallets didn’t drive the industry but they certainly showed the pulse of how well the shipping business was thriving.

Since 1952, Blackwater Pallet Inc. displayed relatively strong barometers of the shipping business. Basically speaking, the more pallets sold, the better the shipping business prospered.

Recently, that barometer dropped, and dropped hard. The last five years have been stagnant, said Milton Beale, who said he’s running other businesses in the area but did not elaborate. “We didn’t want to invest a lot of money in this location,” he said.

“A lot more containers have been shipping into this country from other countries,” said Beale, the majority owner of Blackwater Pallet. “Not many [containers] are shipping out.”

It’s in part, at least, why Blackwater Pallet is going out of business after 55 years in Franklin, at least 40 of those years operating on the property on Armory Drive.

“Jack” Beale — “That’s how everyone will [know his name],” his son said last week — bought the business from Herbert Saunders in 1964. It operated at a location at the end of Fourth Avenue in downtown Franklin, Milton said, after a start in Pinpoint. It moved to Armory Drive in 1966, one of the first businesses to open in the southern part of town.

Blackwater Pallet “manufactured” pallets for customers based on the size and weight of the item being shipped.

For the better part of 55 years, the company cut its own wood to make supports for transporting everything from kidney dialysis machines to auto parts to paper to textiles to printed books.

The pallets were custom made mostly from hardwood, Southern pine or plywood — “whatever the customer wanted,” Beale said.

“When we were in business, the business was very good,” Beale said.

Most of the company’s hourly employees were let go last month, and there’s been no manufacturing since June. There are some pallet orders to be delivered and some inventory and machinery to be sold — “selling off pieces,” Beale said. Beale said he plans to shut down completely in the fall and close the doors.

What happens after that, he said, is still up in the air, but said “the property is not for sale” today. What happens in a few months, he said, cold change that posture.

“We haven’t decided what to do with it yet,” he said. “There isn’t answer for that yet.”

Beale worked at the company in his younger years when his father ran the business, driving a truck, making deliveries, learning the trade.

Then after a break, he went full time in 1975. “I’ve been here ever since,” he said.

“Like a lot of businesses,” Beale said, “there have been some ups and downs.”